Posts tagged with "White House"

Biden Administration works with industry to develop COVID-19 vaccination ‘passports’

March 30, 2021

Along with private technology and travel companies, the Biden Administration is working to develop credentials—referred to as passports, health certificates or travel passes—showing proof of vaccination as individuals and businesses emerge from lockdown, The Washington Post reports.

The effort has gained momentum amid President Joe Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer; and with a growing number of companies—from cruise lines to sports teams—saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again.

The Administration’s initiative has been driven largely by efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services, including an office devoted to health information technology, said five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. The White House this month took on a bigger role managing government agencies involved in the work, led by Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zients, with a goal of announcing updates in coming days, said one official.

 “Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” Zients said at a March 12 briefing.

According to the Post, the passports offer a glimpse of a future after months of COVID-19 restrictions. Officials say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will smooth the way to travel, entertainment and other social gatherings in a post-pandemic world. But it also raises concerns about dividing the world along the lines of wealth and vaccine access—creating ethical and logistical issues for decision-makers around the world.

“A chaotic and ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence,” reads one slide at a March 2  conference prepared by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

There are several private-sector initiatives creating passports. Among them is the trade group for global airlines, the International Air Transport Association, which is testing a version it calls Travel Pass.

It is not clear, however, whether any of the passports under development will be accepted broadly around the world, and the result could be confusion among travelers and disappointment for the travel industry.

Vaccine passports will be most common on international flights. Some countries already require proof of vaccination for diseases such as yellow fever, and the United States now requires a negative test for COVID-19 to enter the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against travel even as the agency has relaxed other guidelines for people who have been vaccinated.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative is a coalition trying to standardize tracking data of vaccination records in an attempt to speed up a return to normal, Fox News reports.

“The busboy, the janitor, the waiter that works at a restaurant, [want] to be surrounded by employees that are going back to work safely—and [want] to have the patrons ideally be safe as well,” said Brian Anderson, a physician at Mitre, a company helping lead the initiative. “Creating an environment for those vulnerable populations to get back to work safely—and to know that the people coming back to their business are ‘safe,’ and vaccinated— would be a great scenario.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Come and get it: Biden says vaccine should become available to every adult American by May 1

March 15, 2021

Speaking from the White House on March 11 in his first prime-time address as president, Joe Biden insisted that Americans should be ready to feel good about themselves and their country again. Then he laid out some ambitious benchmarks that will determine how justified they are in doing so, Slate reports.

The occasion for Biden’s speech was the first anniversary of the date when the World Health Organization classified the spread of COVID-19 as a pandemic.

It also came the same day that he signed the American Rescue Plan Act, the first major piece of legislation that has passed since he took office; which lays out $1.9 trillion in spending meant to help knock out the virus and revive the economy that it obliterated last year.

The details of the bill have at this point been well publicized—but what Biden introduced in his speech were two dates: May 1 and July 4, Slate notes.

The former is the date on which he says his administration will direct states to make vaccine shots available to all adults.

The latter, as you might imagine, has symbolic importance: It’s the time by which he says enough Americans should be vaccinated that they should feel comfortable gathering together in modestly sized groups with family and friends.

The May 1 date seems intentionally chosen to be a little startling: Previously, the administration had mentioned the end of that month as the time by which enough vaccine doses for every American would be available, and the end of July as the time by which they could be fully distributed. Neither of those targets is necessarily contradicted by the president’s declaration that “you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1,” though.

“Let me be clear,” the president said. “That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to have that shot immediately, but it means you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1. Every adult will be eligible to get their shot.

According to Slate, there has also been an emerging belief among some experts that the public interest is better served by getting as many shots out the door as fast as possible, to whomever lines up for them, than by a slower process of careful prioritization.

The timeline announced Thursday, then, was less a promise than a national call to action—a statement of urgency directed not just at state-level political leaders and medical administrators but at the regular civilians at home who will have to take responsibility for finding themselves a shot.

Biden did, however, lay out goals that he can be judged on. For one, he promised that by May 1 the federal government will “launch, with our partners, new tools to make it easier for you to find the vaccine and where to get the shot, including a new website.” The site, Biden says, will allow every American to easily identify the nearest location where vaccinations are available. Promised the president: “No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.”

Such a tool would indeed be very useful. It would also seem to be an enormous logistical and technological undertaking, given the number of different public and private entities that are already involved in vaccine distribution. (There is almost certainly no one in the White House who is not aware of what happened the last time a Democratic administration promised to launch a health care website.)

The administration also said Thursday that it would more than double the number of community health centers, pharmacies, and federally run vaccination sites involved in the effort to finish the job that it says will be done—or at least done enough to barbecue—by July.

“This country can do anything, hard things, big things, important things,” Biden said toward the conclusion of his speech. Now he’s given his administration four months to deliver a specific series of them.

But, President Biden said, he cannot do it without the help of the American people, noting, “I promise I will do everything in my power, I will not relent until we beat this virus, but I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. And that’s not hyperbole. I need you.”

Research contact: @Slate

White House welcomes two ‘very good boys’ as Biden’s dogs move in

January 25, 2021

Who let the dogs in? Well, President Joe Biden did. And they are very glad to be reunited with their “hoomans,” according to their Twitter feed, @TheFirstDogs.

Now that the two German Shepherds are in their new home at the White House, they commented, “Our hoomans, @potus and @flotus, are heccin’ awesome.”

And, as for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Major loves the South Lawn and Champ’s Monday thoughts involve mainly “bacun,” according to a report by The Huffington Post.

The fur babies belonging to Biden and his wife, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, arrived this weekend—marking the first time a pet has taken up residence in the White House since the Obamas left.

Notably, President Donald Trump was the first president in more than 100 years to not have had a pet while in office.

“The First Family wanted to get settled before bringing the dogs down to Washington from Delaware,” said Michael LaRosa, press secretary for Jill Biden, in a statement to CNN on Monday, January 25.

Of the two very good boys, Champ is more than ten years old and has lived with the Bidens since December 2008—previously cohabitating with the family at the vice president’s residence during Obama’s presidency. Major, who is three years old, is the first-ever dog adopted from a shelter to live in the White House.

Rumor is they soon will have a brother or sister. Dr. Biden also wants a kitten.

Research contact: @HuffPost

‘We’ll put them down very quickly’: Trump threatens to quash election night protests

September 14, 2020

President Donald Trump threatened Thursday to “put … down very quickly” riots on election night, should aggrieved Democrats take to the streets in the wake of his potential victory, Politico reports.

The remarks from the president came in an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that is set to air Saturday, in which he was asked how he would respond to incidents of rioting should he be declared the winner on November 3.

“We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that. We have the right to do that. We have the power to do that, if we want,” Trump said.

“Look, it’s called insurrection,” he added. “We just send in, and we do it very easy. I mean, it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it, but if we had to, we’d do that and put it down within minutes.”

Trump drew bipartisan criticism in June after police officers and National Guard troops fired rubber bullets and deployed flash-bang grenades to force largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House.

The incursion against protesters by U.S. law enforcement officials allowed the president, top White House aides, and senior administration officials including Attorney General William Barr, to walk across the street to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church — where Trump posed with an upside down Bible for a political photo opportunity.

Just a few weeks later, in July, Trump deployed an ambiguous mix of militarized officers from the Department of Homeland Security to Portland, Oregon, where they were captured on video using apparently unnecessary force against a Navy veteran and loading BLM protesters into unmarked cars.

At the same time, Biden has forcefully condemned all violence in American cities. However, Trump has been reluctant to speak out against violence perpetrated by his supporters in the form of counterprotests.

It is unclear whether there will be rioting on election night or if the White House race will even be called in the hours after the polls close, due to the significant expansion of mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, Politico says.

Trump has expressed vocal opposition to voting by mail, asserting without evidence that the virtual ballot-casting practice would result in widespread voter fraud and yield unfavorable electoral results for Republicans.

In august, Trump threatened that he would order law enforcement officials to polling places in an effort to deter illegal activity on Election Day, although it is unclear what authority he has to issue such a directive.

“We’re going to have everything,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody and attorneys general.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows insisted at that juncture that Trump was not advocating a form of voter suppression, and Attorney General William Barr argued that sending federal agents to voting sites would be legal if they were responding to a “particular criminal threat” or “specific investigative danger.”

Research contact: @politico

Steve Bannon charged with defrauding donors of ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign

August 21, 2020

Steve Bannon—the architect of the Trump campaign’s 2016 win and #45’s former chief strategist in the White House—has been arrested along with three others and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to a fundraising campaign for a private border wall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on August 20, according to a report by The Hill.

Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea allegedly defrauded donors to the online crowdfunding campaign known as We Build the Wall, which raised more than $25 million. The four defendants were expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon.

Bannon is just the latest member of the president’s inner circle to face criminal charges:

  • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian diplomat. He has since backed out of a plea agreement, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to withdraw its case against him.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is serving more than seven years in prison on an array of bank and tax fraud charges.
  • And Trump commuted the three-year-and-four-months prison sentence of his former adviser Roger Stonein July, just days before Stone was scheduled to report to a federal corrections facility.

In a formal press release from the SDNY, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “[Starting in approximately December 2018] …as alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction. 

She added, “While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.  We thank the USPIS for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”

According to The Hill’s report, the four men are facing charges including one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The indictment suggests that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating the organization as early as last October, while Geoffrey Berman was the office’s U.S. attorney. The Trump administration forced Berman out of his position in June in a high-profile spat during which the prosecutor initially refused to resign.

When asked for comment by a pool reporter on Thursday, a White House spokesperson said, “I refer you to DOJ; this is not a White House matter.”

We Build the Wall did not immediately respond to a message from The Hill seeking comment.

Kolfage launched We Build the Wall on GoFundMe in late 2018—quickly raising more than $20 million, before the site threatened to remove his page unless he identified a valid recipient of the funds.

Based on the indictment, Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato then formed a nonprofit called “We Build the Wall, Inc.” to receive the GoFundMe money.

Despite Kolfage’s promises that he wouldn’t be taking a salary, federal prosecutors alleged that the group of defendants schemed to pass along hundreds of thousands of dollars to him to help “fund his lavish lifestyle.”

Kolfage allegedly took a total of $350,000 from the organization, passed through a series of bank accounts, nonprofits and bank accounts between January and October of 2019.

One nonprofit controlled by Bannon received more than a million dollars,  The Hill says—some of which he passed on to Kolfage, while taking a “substantial portion” for personal gain.

In October, prosecutors allege, the defendants realized they might be under criminal investigation, halted their secret payment scheme and amended the organization’s website to note that Kolfage would be paid a salary beginning this January.

Research contact: @thehill

White House denies that Stephen Miller’s 97-year-old grandma has died of coronavirus

July 27, 2020

The Trump Administration on July 23 discredited news that White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller’s 97-year-old grandmother had died of the coronavirus—the strong disclaimer coming after his uncle reported her passing due to COVID-19 on July 4.

Mother Jones first reported on Thursday that Miller’s uncle David Glosser was “angry and outraged” at President Donald Trump’s “lack of response” to the crisis, which has left more than 140,000 people dead in the United States and has infected more than 4 million.

“This morning my mother, Ruth Glosser, died of the late effects of COVID-19 like so many thousands of other people; both young and old,” Glosser wrote on Facebook on July 4. “She survived the acute infection but was left with lung and neurological damage that destroyed her will to eat and her ability to breathe well enough to sustain arousal and consciousness.”

But when asked about Glosser’s death, the White House told Mother Jones that the link to the coronavirus was incorrect.

“This is categorically false and a disgusting use of so-called journalism when the family deserves privacy to mourn the loss of a loved one,” the White House told the magazine.

Rather, the White House prevaricated, “His grandmother did not pass away from COVID. She was diagnosed with COVID in March and passed away in July, so that timeline does not add up at all. His grandmother died peacefully in her sleep from old age.”

Mother Jones obtained a copy of the death certificate, which lists “respiratory arrest” linked to COVID-19 as the cause of death. When the news outlet asked about the document, the White House said it was “categorically false.”

“She had a mile [sic] case of COVID-19 in March,” a spokesperson responded. “She was never hospitalized and made a full and quick recovery.”

However, Glosser directly denied the Trump administration’s claim that his mother didn’t die of COVID-19 complications, saying the White House had attempted to conceal the underlying cause of her death.

“Keeping the tragic facts about COVID deaths of our countrymen and women, young and old, from the American public serves no purpose other than to obscure the need for a coherent national, scientifically based, public health response to save others from this disease,” he told Mother Jones.

Research contact: @MotherJones

An open or shut case: CDC refuses to revise school reopening guidelines

July 10, 2020

Pandemic experts at the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not agree with President Donald Trump’s “school of thought” on COVID-19. School administrators, teachers, staff, and students also are on the fence.

Indeed, the CDC is refusing to cave under intense pressure from the White House to allow K-12 educational facilities nationwide to reopen quickly and cheaply, without following the agency’s strict guidelines.

During an appearance on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America on Thursday, July 9, CDC Director Robert Redfield asserted that the agency will not revise its guidelines for reopening schools, despite calls from the White House to do so.

Instead, additional reference documents will be provided, Redfield said, noting, “Our guidelines are our guidelines, but we are going to provide additional reference documents to aid basically communities in trying to open K-through-12s. It’s not a revision of the guidelines; it’s just to provide additional information to help schools be able to use the guidance we put forward.”

The comments risk further adding to a sense of confusion about how best to reopen schools as the new academic year approaches amid a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to a report by CNN, “The president has vehemently called for schools to reopen— one of the keys to restarting the economy and getting the country back to a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy— calling the existing guidelines “very tough and expensive,” and going so far as to threaten to cut off school funding, though the federal government’s ability to do so is limited.”

During a press briefing on July 8, Vice President Mike Pence said the CDC would issue new guidance on reopening schools next week. Both he and Redfield said the agency’s recommendations should not be viewed as a barrier to returning children to classrooms.

In response to comments about the guidelines being too tough or impractical, Redfield said Thursday this depends on how the guidelines are put together.

“Right now, we’re continuing to work with the local jurisdictions to how they want to take the portfolio of guidance that we’ve given to make them practical for their schools to reopen,” he said.

Current CDC guidelines for schools to reopen rely on extensive protocols to keep children safe. They call for desks to be placed six feet apart, when feasible; and for children to face in the same direction on one side of tables, as well as use cloth face coverings.

The CDC suggests the closing of communal areas, such as dining rooms and playgrounds; and the installation of physical barriers like sneeze guards, where necessary. It proposes that staff who are at risk of COVID-19 complications because of health conditions could telework or be assigned other duties while children with medical conditions could learn online.

Given such advice, it was not clear how the CDC guidelines could be eased without raising the risk that the return to school could cause infections. The current guidelines say the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission could come with full-size classes, a lack of social distancing and with children mixing between lessons.

Research contact: @CNN

Report: For three months, White House blocked CDC from briefing Americans on COVID-19

July 6, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was denied permission by the White House to brief the public about the coronavirus crisis, a source at the agency told Yahoo News. 

As a result, the CDC found itself unable to do public briefing for three months—from March 9 through June 12—starting not long after a senior official warned in late February that the virus was likely to hit hard nationwide, Business Insider reports.

As the coronavirus swept across America, it was the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence, and fronted with increasing frequency by President Donald Trump, that took the lead in briefing the public about the crisis.

Earlier in the year the CDC had given frequent briefings on the pandemic. But then it fell abruptly silent.

A CDC spokesperson, speaking anonymously to Yahoo, confirmed that the agency “slowly but surely took a backseat” to the coronavirus task force.

“We continued to ask for approval” from the White House to hold briefings, the CDC spokesperson told Yahoo News. “We were not given approval. Finally, we just stopped asking.” 

In a briefing on February 25, Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), had issued a stark warning about the likely impact of the disease.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen,” she said.

The message contrasted sharply with Trump’s attempts at the time to downplay the likely impact of the disease, Business Insider said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

A task force member told Yahoo that the CDC was too concerned with its own stature, and an interagency response to the crisis was required. “The CDC feels like they should be in charge of this,” remarked

Research contact: @YahooNews

Trump spin: ‘It’s a great day’ for George Floyd

June 8, 2020

On Friday, June 5, at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump proclaimed it a “great day for equality” and a “great day” for George Floyd following a jobs report that showed unemployment falling, except for African Americans, and ten days of unrest sparked by Floyd’s death.

The president delivered lengthy and often rambling remarks in the Rose Garden that were ostensibly meant to highlight a new jobs report that showed unemployment falling after weeks of the country being shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, The Hill reported.

But Trump veered frequently from topic to topic, at times addressing the nationwide protests spurred by Floyd’s death. Floyd died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.

“Equal justice under the law must mean every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender or creed,” Trump said. “They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement.”

“We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen,” he continued, referencing Floyd’s death.

“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”

Protests, including large-scale protests near the White House, continue across the nation. Law enforcement has erected fencing around the White House complex in recent days, and the area is expected to remain closed to the public until June 10, The Hill notes.

Trump, who has called for governors to “dominate” the streets to quell protests related to police brutality and systemic racism, took no questions on Friday in the Rose Garden. When reporters shouted as he signed legislation to inquire what his plan is to address the issues protesters are raising, Trump held a finger to his lips to quiet them.

Trump touted a better-than-expected jobs report, which showed unemployment at 13.3% in May after hitting a post-World War II high of 14.7% the previous month. Economists had predicted the jobless rate in May would rise as high as 19% as many states remained at least partially locked down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But for black workers, the unemployment rate was 16.8%, a slight uptick from the 16.7%  unemployment rate in April and the highest in more than a decade, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The jobless rate for white workers declined to 12.4% last month.

Friday’s Rose Garden event gave Trump an opportunity to focus on the broader jobs report and spin a positive narrative even as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the protests, and ongoing economic woes, The Hill said.

Trump is not expected to attend one of the memorial services for Floyd in the coming days. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden may attend one of the events, an attorney for the Floyd family said this week.

Research contact: @thehill

Trump retreats into White House bunker as protests rage

June 2, 2020

Unlike ill-fated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy—who in 1968 famously took to the Detroit streets to calm mobs after the assassination of Martin Luther King—(or even current Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who took to the streets of Delaware over the weekend); President Donald Trump has retreated from public appearances as “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” protesters fill the streets of Washington, D.C., and other cities nationwide.

Secret Service agents rushed President Donald Trump to a White House bunker on Friday night, May 29, as hundreds of protesters of all creeds and colors gathered outside the executive mansion—some of them throwing rocks and heaving police barricades, The Washington Post reports.

Trump spent nearly an hour in the bunker, which was designed for use in emergencies such as terrorist attacks, according to a Republican close to the White House who spoke with the news outlet on the condition of anonymity. The account was confirmed by an administration official who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

According to the Post, “The abrupt decision by the agents underscored the rattled mood inside the White House—where the chants from protesters in Lafayette Park could be heard all weekend; and Secret Service agents and law enforcement officers struggled to contain the crowds.”

Friday’s protests were triggered by the alleged murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was pinned at the neck by white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

The demonstrations in Washington turned violent and appeared to catch officers by surprise. Indeed, the news outlet reports, they sparked one of the highest alerts on the White House complex since the September. 11 attacks in 2001.

Ultimately, 50 Secret Service agents were rumored to have been injured during the protests at the White House.

“The White House does not comment on security protocols and decisions,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. The Secret Service said it does not discuss the means and methods of its protective operations. The president’s move to the bunker was first reported by The New York Times.

The president and his family have been shaken by the size and venom of the crowds, according to the Republican. It was not immediately clear if first lady Melania Trump and the couple’s 14-year-old son, Barron, joined the president in the bunker. Secret Service protocol would have called for all those under the agency’s protection to be in the underground shelter.

Trump did not appear in public on Sunday. Instead, a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the plans ahead of time said Trump was expected in the coming days to speak to the American public.

Research contact: @washingtonpost